I grew up on our family’s farm near Ballymena, as the oldest of 3 boys. Ballymena is a provincial town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Back then, it had some 6,000 inhabitants. You could be forgiven for not knowing where it is because during World War 2, many road signs and street names were removed for safety against intrusion by spies. In recent times however, Ballymena has become synonymous with many famous names, like the actor Liam Neeson who attended Ballymena Technical College where I once studied.
After the “Belfast Blitz” of 1941, I remember, as a younger child, carrying my gas mask around with me and participating in gas mask drills at school. There was a fear that Ballymena, located only some 50 kms away from Belfast, could also be the target of air raids. So, like the rest of Britain, we kept our masks at hand, carried identity cards, used food ration books and covered our windows at night as part of blackout restrictions.
In my mid-teens, I came to faith in Christ. A persistent memory of mine is when one of my peers observing me as I spoke at a fellowship meeting, declared, “you could be a minister!”.
Instead, after completing an apprentice as a coppersmith/pipe fitter, I moved to Portsmouth in England, to work for the British Admiralty (Navy) in its dockyards. In that era, shipbuilding was a dominant industry – commercially in Belfast where grand ships like the Titanic were built, and militarily for Britain as a strong naval power during the first and second world wars and later during the Cold War. When I was in Portsmouth, there were some 22,000 working at the dockyards; latterly I read that it was down to 2,000. The naval base where the dockyards are located now has an on-site museum and even a dockyard tour.
During my four years in Portsmouth, I became closely involved in the local Methodist Church on Twyford Avenue, North End (since demolished), attending services and assisting with Sunday School, youth group and as a layer preacher. It prompted me to save up to attend a year-long course for lay people to train in local church ministry. I did this at Cliff College in Calver, a small, picturesque rural village in Derbyshire, bordered by the River Derwent.
After my course, I was appointed as a Lay Pastor in Cheshire serving a group of rural and small churches. Unbeknown to me, this experience would be significant for my future ministry in Australia. A timely visit in mid-1962 by Rev S. J. (Sydney John) Jenkins from Western Australia convinced me (and two others) to make the decision to go to Australia and participate in the local ministry. I arrived in Perth in December 1962. As far as I knew then, I was the only member of my family ever to go to Australia.
I began as a Lay Minister with the Methodist Home Missions in Carnamah. This was a ground-breaking ministry as it was the first time Methodists and Presbyterians had shared a minister. I went on to serve at South Perth. Then In 1966, I commenced full-time study for 3 years at Barclay Theological College, Nedlands, to become a Minister of the Word. After that, I was stationed at Lake Grace Methodist Church for 3 years.
During this time, I met Anne, a laboratory technologist, at a church youth rally in Perth. She was working in Papua New Guinea at a government leprosy hospital staffed by the London Missionary Society.
1970 was a big year, Anne and I married in September and 3 weeks later I was ordained as a Minister at Wesley Church in the city.
I then went on to serve as a Methodist Minister at Cunderdin-Quairading church, and then as a Uniting Church Minister at Moora, Kalgoorlie, Busselton and Narrogin. Busselton was my longest appointment at 9 years, followed by Kalgoorlie for 7.5 years. I retired on 31 October 2005 at age 69 after a total of 39 years in ministry. Since my retirement, I still take worship services, when asked, mainly in the metro area, but I have also travelled out to York, Gingin and Toodyay. I also do volunteer work at the Uniting Church WA archives centre.
As an aside – in 1980, Anne, myself and our then two children went to live in Cavan, Ireland, for 3 years. Whilst my father had died by that time, it was a homecoming to see my two half-brothers and other extended family and also to introduce my children to them. I was also able to meet my mother’s family who I had not met after she had died when I was two years old. I learnt then that I had a paternal uncle who had been living in Australia long before me. Working the Methodist circuit church of Cavan, gave me the opportunity to give back to the country where my Christian faith was borne.
Being a minister is a privilege. You meet a lot of people, develop many close pastoral relationships, become a key figure of the local community and participate in community life and significant events. Some standout memories for me include: conducting the Lake Grace Golden Jubilee celebrations, opening the new church building at Quairading; and the dedication of new church halls at Moora and Kalgoorlie. I’ve conducted many, many weddings and funerals; and pastoral visits which I love to do. It’s also been a privilege to visit Fiji with Anne for her work with the leprosy hospital and patients.
The Church has taken me from Ireland, to locations in and across metro, rural and remote WA, with Anne and our children. In fact, if I had to go through the alphabet of all the places where I have ministered, there would be few letters left! Even our four children were all born in different places – Paul in Cunderdin, David in Moora, Carolyn in Ireland and Andrew in Kalgoorlie.
Being a minister has allowed me to use the gifts of preaching and pastoral care that God gave me – although, I don’t always come off unscathed! After a Sunday service one morning, I remember a congregation member saying of my preaching: “That’s the biggest load of rubbish I ever heard!”. I quipped back in good humour: “Well, that’s the best compliment I’ve had from you in a long time!”.
I feel close to God when I am doing the work of God – I feel it in my heart. When you give, it always comes back and it’s a really good feeling.